David Pilling

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What prompted you to choose the period that you wrote your first book in?

My first book was a short detective novel set in England during the time of Edward II. I had always wanted to write a historical novel and had been reading quite a lot of medieval crime fiction, especially Ellis Peters (Brother Cadfael). It seemed to make sense to write a crime thriller set in the chaotic last days of Edward’s reign, in the midst of a civil war. I think (hope) it worked quite well!

What is your approach to researching your novels? Has the process changed over the years?

I generally try to read at least two textbooks to add some colour and detail, and then try to pick out further interesting details from original source documents: Pipe Rolls and so forth. I have some training in accessing Latin and medieval French documents (though am no expert), and there is no end to the source material, especially for my preferred era (13th century).

Historical fiction is a great introduction to history. Can you recommend any historians to our readers to learn more about your period?

I would recommend a great many: Michael Prestwich, Fiona Watson, RR Davies, AD Carr, Andy King, Andrew Spencer, Caroline Burt, Adam Chapman, Paul Martin Remfry, Rod Billaud, Louise Wilkinson, Michael Brown, Kathleen Neal, Dean Irwin – to name but a few

What three pieces of advice would you give to a budding historical novelist, looking to write and publish their first book?

1) Avoid clichés: something that applies to any fiction, not just historical 2) Don’t use violence, dirt and disease and battle scenes as a substitute for plot 3) Keep the dialogue as plain as possible, with only the occasional period exclamation.

If you could choose to meet any historical figure from your period, who would it be and why?

Preferably more than one, but at a push I would like to meet Edward I. A fascinating, contradictory character.

Similarly, if you could witness one event from history, what would it be and why?

The death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales, in December 1282. I would like to see exactly what happened and how that tallies with the sources. Preferably from a safe distance, of course.

Which other historical novelists do you admire?

Alfred Duggan (not much read these days), TH White, Ellis Peters, Bernard Cornwell, Simon Scarrow, Patrick O’Brian

When first sketching out an idea for a novel, which comes first – the protagonist, plot or history?

The historical setting comes first, both as general backdrop and basis for the plot

Do you have a daily routine as a writer? Also, how important is it to know other writers and have a support network?

I do tend to follow daily routines. I don’t like being cooped up all day, so usually take my laptop into a café in the mornings and work in there. In the afternoons I tend to focus more on social media and updating my blog/website. I do interact with other authors, but I wouldn’t say I am part of an organised support network. Sharing each other’s material on social media and discussing book reviews can be useful.

Can you tell us about the project you are working on at the moment?

I am currently working on a series of novellas based on the ‘condottiere’ or bands of Free Companies in Italy in the late 14th century. The most famous of these was Sir John Hawkwood, who appears as a supporting character.